Monterey Jazz Festival Turns 50

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It might be tough to get a minyan for a jazz performance in L.A., but it's easy up north where a record 45,000 jazz fans endured rain and mud that threatened to turn this annual jazz bacchanal into Woodstock Redux.
Monterey Jazz Festival
Monterey Fairgrounds
Monterey, California
September 21-23, 2007
It might be tough to get a minyan for a jazz performance in L.A., but it's easy up north where a record 45,000 jazz fans endured rain and mud that threatened to turn this annual jazz bacchanal into Woodstock Redux. But the spirits of Bird and Dizzy, Duke, Miles and Monk blew away the storm clouds and let the sounds of jazz spread love and happiness over the County Fairgrounds. The theme of this year's golden celebration might have been the bridging of the years between veterans like the great Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, Jim Hall and Ernestine Anderson, all of whom played at the inaugural festival in 1958, and the younger generation of musicians like Terence Blanchard, Chris Potter, Benny Green and the teenagers in the MJF Next Generation Jazz Orchestra.

The blend of experience and youth was displayed on Friday night in the duet performed by Jim Hall and the youthful Geoff Keezer on piano. Hall and Keezer traded up-tempo licks on Mrs. Hall's favorite tune, "All the Things You Are." Later, a meditative Keezer original, "Wide Angle Lens," instantly transfixed the audience as guitar and piano seemed to nuzzle each other tenderly like two lovers. The Terence Blanchard Quintet closed the night out at the Bill Berry Stage by evoking plaintive trumpet tones that echoed the suffering wails still emanating from his abandoned hometown of New Orleans. Blanchard played selections from his suite composed for the Spike Lee documentary, "When the Levees Broke," that were soulful enough to bring tears to the listener' eyes.

Dawn arrived glumly Saturday morning, accompanied by a rain steady enough to have sat in on percussion with one of the bands. But the clouds parted and the sun shone through as the blues of the Otis Taylor Band put the thousands of fans in a funky mood. The afternoon also included an interesting" Blindfold Test" put on by Down Beat magazine, of course. And even though the great Gerald Wilson and his son, guitarist and bandleader in his own right Anthony Wilson, failed to identify any of the musical offerings, some were rather obscure in all fairness, their comments were well worth the audience's attention. Serious jazz finally kicked off at 4pm with the great Rashied Ali, John Coltrane's last drummer, leading a smokin' hard bop band with two up and coming horn players, Lawrence Clark on tenor sax and Josh Evans on trumpet , Greg Murphy on piano and Joris Teepe on bass. The band played selections from Ali's two most recent recordings, Judgment Day Vol. 1 and 2. with an extended jam on the title tune that had Ali's powerful polyrhythms driving the beat while a duet with tenor player Clark recalled Ali's classic duet with Coltrane on "Interstellar Space."

So much great jazz kept coming on Saturday night that some very difficult choices had to be made. I chose to begin the evening at Dizzy's Den, hosted by L.A.'s own LeRoy Downs. The affable, knowledgeable, and eminently hip former KJZZ DJ, who can now be checked out on his Jazzcat web site, introduced the Dave Holland Quartet, with Chris Potter on tenor, Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano , and the hard-driving Eric Harland on drums, an all-star band indeed. On an original Holland composition, "Step to It," Chris Potter displayed the influence the late, great Joe Henderson had on his swingin', hard bop style. The band shared solo space equitably and the band's easy interaction reflected their extensive time playing together. They ended their set with an island-flavored tune, "Calypso," that recalled the festive excursions of tenor titan, Sonny Rollins.

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